Fraser Island fire report under scrutiny

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she will look into a report that officials downplayed the severity of a bushfire as it burnt more than half of K’Gari, or Fraser Island, last year.

Aug 23, 2021, updated Aug 23, 2021
The Queensland Government ordered an inquiry into the bushfire on Fraser Island. (Photo: Robyn Finlayson)

The Queensland Government ordered an inquiry into the bushfire on Fraser Island. (Photo: Robyn Finlayson)

Emails unearthed by an ABC Right to Information application shows senior Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officials wrote that “we are probably burning more $$$ than anything else” after two weeks of waterbombing efforts on the island in October.

The QWPS regional director said at the time waterbombing with saltwater should be reserved for critical situations, which they said the fire had not reached.

The bushfire then burnt through more than half of the island, making global headlines, as the World Heritage Site was ravaged.

The bushfire began after an illegal fire was lit on October 14, but four days later as it burned near Orchid Beach, a ranger asked QWPS officials to call in the waterbombers.

QWPS executive Damien Head told subordinates he didn’t support waterbombing the blaze, “mainly because you won’t put it out in the swamp”.

“And if you could, well the fire isn’t that bad to warrant such action. I feel this is a case of people wishing to indulge their profession. Aka ‘do something’,” his email said.

Palaszczuk said she hadn’t seen the emails, but promised to look at them.

She brushed off questions about why the emails had not been included in a report into the fire by the Inspector-General Emergency Management.

“I’ll have a look at it when I get back to work. I’ve been very busy,” she told reporters on Monday.

The IGEM report noted arrangements between QPWS and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services over cost-sharing and use of firefighting assets “was the source of some confusion”.

Several factors contributed to the fire spreading, the report said, including high temperatures, strong dry northerly winds, difficult terrain and limited access constrained by dry, loose sand tracks.

Of 38 recommendations put forward by the IGEM in response to the Fraser Island bushfire, the state government supported all in response to the report.

The fire burned until mid-December when heavy rains doused the flames.

Two men were fined $1334 and $667 respectively in January for illegally lighting a campfire which led to 87,000 hectares being burnt through.

QWPS rangers have issued 33 fire-related penalty infringement notices to campers since January 1 this year.

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